Thursday, November 30, 2017

Engineering Catastrophe


Ulrich Beck was a German sociologist of risk who studied how catastrophic hazards are structurally encoded into our modern industrial and military infrastructures. Beck noted that we are able to reflect upon our socially-engineered catastrophic hazards, but too often unable to prevent their unfolding.

A very good illustration of Beck's argument about modernity is illustrated here:

Water is normally used as a nuclear fuel coolant in power plants but in the case of the Monju reactor, liquid sodium is used instead to increase production of plutonium. However, liquid sodium ignites when it comes into contact with air, and it causes an explosive chemical reaction when it is mixed with water. In 1995, some liquid sodium leaked from the Monju reactor, causing the reactor to be shut down for a long period of time.
Water is normally used as a nuclear fuel coolant in power plants but in the case of the Monju reactor, liquid sodium is used instead to increase production of plutonium. However, liquid sodium ignites when it comes into contact with air, and it causes an explosive chemical reaction when it is mixed with water. In 1995, some liquid sodium leaked from the Monju reactor, causing the reactor to be shut down for a long period of time.
Monju reactor set for decommissioning lacks sodium removal method (2017, November 29). The Mainichi, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20171129/p2a/00m/0na/013000c

Water is normally used as a nuclear fuel coolant in power plants but in the case of the Monju reactor, liquid sodium is used instead to increase production of plutonium. However, liquid sodium ignites when it comes into contact with air, and it causes an explosive chemical reaction when it is mixed with water. In 1995, some liquid sodium leaked from the Monju reactor, causing the reactor to be shut down for a long period of time.

...760 metric tons of liquid sodium used for the primary coolant system, several hundred inside the reactor vessel cannot be extracted....

This is amazing. 760 tons of liquid sodium that will ignite when in contact with air cannot be removed from the Monju reactor! The article states the liquid sodium problem is exacerbated because the sodium has been irradiated and is radioactive.

How could this have happened? The Mainichi cites a "senior official at the JAEA" who said the main priority when the reactor was being designed was speed! Quite apparently, no consideration was given to decommissioning.

Or conversely, plenty of consideration was given to future decommissioning problems, but the culture and leadership disallowed the kind of dissent that would have prevented the current situation.

This is a great illustration of how catastrophic hazards are engineered into industrial/military infrastructures.

Its also a good example of how authoritarian decision making can lead us to the brink of hell.


JAEA acknowledged that the reactor had been designed without any regard for removing liquid sodium from the reactor vessel, saying, "When the reactor was being designed, the main priority was to finish the project quickly. Decommissioning was not taken into account." In addition, the liquid sodium has been exposed to radiation, making it difficult for humans to approach it and perform tasks.
As a result, of about 760 metric tons of liquid sodium used for the primary coolant system, several hundred inside the reactor vessel cannot be extracted.

2 comments:

  1. People, and life in general, is simply disposable in such authoritarian circumstances.

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  2. yes, not fun to have your mind boggled, at the brink of hell... but what the hell, let's restart a couple more at Ohi, host some Olympics! oh, the incorrigible fascination of it all, how very 'sapiens' of us...

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